This book offers two stories in one - a tale of a troubled teenager and the brief respite found from an unlikely friendship, and the author trying to write it.
Leila finds school a struggle, navigating the noisy classrooms and students, she feels like no one really understands her. Duke is a loner, not coping after the loss of his wife he seeks refuge in the forest. The unlikely friendship between the two is a comfort for both characters - offering Leila a place to feel understood and clear her mind, and offering Duke a sense of family and easing the loneliness of his solitary life. This story within a story is then encapsulated by the tale of the author, stepping in occasionally to check in with the reader and sharing the imaginary journey to publication with a twist that brings the story off of the fictional page.
The structure of ‘Leila’ was very unusual and admittedly it took me a while to grasp it and I think it could be tweaked to be more effective. I’m reminded of The NeverEnding Story in how there’s Leila’s story but we also gain the perspective of the author who is writing it.
I liked getting to know Leila and Earl du Porter does a great job of bringing her to life, explaining her struggles and feelings. As described this is a coming of age story with a twist and that explores neurodiversity, isolation and friendship. I think that this would be best suited for teen readers and older with plenty to keep readers curious about the direction the book is taking until the very end.